Tuesday marks 80th anniversary of military plane crash

Tuesday, September 7, 2021
Persons stand at the scene of a military plane crash near the Putnam-Parke county line which killed Lt. Col. Rufus Davidson and Maj. Fred Murchison in the early morning of Sept. 7, 1941.
Courtesy Chris York

VIVALIA — Though just a child at the time, Putnam County resident Jean Rowings still vividly remembers the aftermath of a military plane crash that occurred 80 years ago today near the Putnam-Parke county line.

She specifically recalls the line of automobiles and horse-drawn wagons waiting to get down to the wreckage. Ultimately, it was a tragedy in which two airmen lost their lives.

According to coverage from the Sept. 8, 1941 edition of the Daily Banner, Lt. Col. Rufus Davidson and Maj. Fred Murchison were flying their Northrop A-17 during what was described as a “savage” thunderstorm rolling through the area. At about 4:50 a.m., they crashed into a wooded hillside a mile-and-a-half west of the county line.

The scene indicated that the plane crashed nose-first as it cut a swath through the timber. The impact, as the Daily Banner reported, hurled the main part of the plane several yards. The engine itself rolled about 40 feet beyond the rest of the destruction.

Davidson, believed to be the pilot, was found among the wreckage. Meanwhile, Murchison’s body was found about 30 yards from it. His parachute was deployed, but it was determined that the explosion after the impact had thrown him from the plane. It was reported that Davidson was extricated from the wreckage four hours later.

Officers from Scott Field (i.e. Scott Air Force Base) in Illinois reported that Davidson and Murchison had left there on a routine flight to Patterson Field (part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) in Ohio at 6:45 p.m. the day before the incident.

Robert Thompson, who lived only 200 yards from where the crash happened, stated to the Daily Banner that he heard the plane circling when he went to shut the windows. He said it flew so low that the house shook before he heard the explosion. Thompson, his wife, his mother-in-law and a boarder were the first to reach the scene.

“It was raining so hard you hardly could see anything,” Thompson said.

An inquiry was held later in the morning after the crash by a board of U.S. Army Air Corps captains. Another inquiry was later conducted by the Accident Classification Board at Scott Field. No specific details about their investigations were reported in the Daily Banner’s article.

A detachment from Wright Field arrived later in the afternoon and salvaged the plane’s motor, sheet metal and instruments, aside from cleaning up the site in general.

A monument commemorating Davidson and Murchison sits a mile south from the crash site at County Road 720 South and County Road 1100 East.
Banner Graphic/BRAND SELVIA

Davidson was survived by his wife Vivien, an unnamed daughter and his son Collier, who was a second lieutenant in the Air Corps at the time. Murchison was survived by his wife, who was not named. Davidson was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, while Murchison was buried in Texas.

A monument honoring both airmen is located one mile south of the crash site at the intersection of County Road 720 South and County Road 1100 East. It was finished by local resident Lee Creed around Memorial Day two years ago.

“I didn’t feel it was my place to do anything until I realized it was fading from memory,” Creed said. “It’s very close to my childhood home and I grew up with it. Those guys deserve to be remembered.”

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  • Some of the information in thus story is missing. Lee Creed didn't know a **** thing until I told him correctly. He had the facts all wrong. One of my relatives was first on scene of the crash. I also lived on that dead in road years after.

    -- Posted by the_parts_man2000 on Tue, Sep 7, 2021, at 7:34 PM
  • I saw that monument a few months ago and tried to get more information about the crash. Very little was disclosed by the Army, so I'm thinking there was a cover-up for some reason. Maybe the parts man2000 can fill us in.

    -- Posted by Ben Dover on Tue, Sep 7, 2021, at 8:53 PM
  • The Klos network can probably provide the missing info

    -- Posted by beg on Tue, Sep 7, 2021, at 11:35 PM
  • Oooops. Kos network, not Klos

    -- Posted by beg on Wed, Sep 8, 2021, at 5:28 PM
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